Archive for February, 2012

Cooking from Scratch

Sunday, February 26th, 2012


Aunt Isabelle as painted by her niece Mary Benedetto

Aunt Isabelle

Weekends. They are a great time to sleep late, work on things I need to do without interruption, and cook up a few meals for the week. Yesterday it was Herb Bread (this time I added millet, garlic and fresh rosemary and parsley.). Good loaf. Also tried Borscht for the first time from my new favorite cookbook, "Twelve Months of Monastary Soups" by Brother Victor.

Today, though, I was digging through the pantry and found some pinto beans. Hmmm. A green chili and pinto bean stew sounded good, but of course, since I'd just found them, the beans were not soaked. Thank goodness it only takes a minute googling to find out how to use the pressure cooker to cook unsoaked beans! Jill McKeever  mentioned using a Presto 6 qt. pressure cooker - same as mine - I decided to give her recipe "How to Cook Pinto Beans in a Pressure Cooker" a try. She said to  cook the beans longer than my Presto instructions indicated, but I tried it her way. Success. 🙂

Seems I have been cooking from scratch since forever. Actually, I remember exactly when, if I am honest. In her later years, my father's Aunt Isabelle used to take turns staying with relatives for a week or two at a time. We all loved her and would argue whose turn it was next to have her stay.

Stout and shorter than me, she wore her grey hair in long plaits wound like a crown atop her head. She taught me how to braid on her own hair, how to knit, crochet, mend and cook. I never did learn how to turn collar and cuffs to extend a shirt's life, but I did learn about nutrition.

My siblings and I were always thrilled when she came to stay. Aunt Isabelle was a great cook, would help with homework and mending and anything else around the house. Most of all, she brought a sense of happiness where ever she went, so our home felt even more full - in a good way - when she was with us.

When my mother died, Aunt Isabelle came to stay and help us sort out our lives. She emptied the kitchen cupboards onto the counter one by one and went through everything. She had the trash can by her side and quickly filled it despite my protests. Jello. Pudding. Cake Mix. Any foodstuffs in a box. In her Italian accent she explained, shaking her head, "That's-a not-a real food, Honey. I'm-a sorry but you canna-not eat-a that stuff. It's-a bad for you health. I'm-a gonna show you how to cook it right."

And she did. Breads. Cakes. Manicotti. Soup.  Between Aunt Isabelle, Aunt Carol and Aunt Mary, I learned how to cook from scratch. Scratch cooking does not really take that much longer, the fresh ingredients pack flavor like nothing ever could coming from a box, and it makes a house smell like home.


Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty

Monday, February 6th, 2012

As a self-proclaimed word junkie, I get frustrated when I face the blank page.

When I told my friend about my blogging challenge for the year – 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty – he asked, “How do you write a great opening scene?”

Understanding plot is an essential start, just as having a blueprint is necessary to build a house or an outline to write a college essay.

Without plot, there is no story, but unconnected moments of time like a broken string of pearls scattered on the ground. Stories follow a structure or framework called the narrative arc, which, simply put, is the story’s beginning, middle and end.

The opening scene needs a hook, or the inciting incident that gets the story moving. There should be some action, a character or two and a setting, which is the time and place where the action is occurring.

Readers will turn to page 2 and on to 3 and 4 if they care about the main character, whose actions drive the plot. The character has to have a goal or desire, whether it is romantic, emotional or practical.

This desire is what drives the character to act; otherwise the character would be just as happy watching TV or reading a book.

As the character goes for what she wants, she will face challenges, or obstacles, that become increasingly more difficult to overcome as the arc of the story rises upward.

The conflicts, whether internal or external, represent what the character is trying to resolve and are what creates these obstacles. The climax offers up the largest obstacle and determines whether the character actually gets what she wants.

The structure or framework, once in place, requires that everything in the story work together to tell the tale.

The other side of the arc, or the falling action to the story’s end, is where the character experiences some kind of revelation. Does she meet her goal? Or does her goal even matter anymore? Did she get something better (or worse) in her search to obtain her desires?

The resolution is where these revelations occur and where any loose ends are tied up, so that the strand of pearls becomes a full circle.

Living in the Land of Love

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

When I moved toLoveland,Colorado, about 15 years ago, I did not give much thought to the name of the city. It was the location near my brothers and the home on the lake that appealed to me.

I read about the Valentine remailing program in the newspaper during my first year here. What a great idea! I bought Valentines for my grandchildren, my brothers, my sister, my aunts, my uncles, my nieces, my nephews, and a good number of friends. I deposited them in one of the red mailboxes at the post office and enjoyed hearing from people who had received them. I have continued to do this every year since.

This year has a new twist, however. This time I purchased the “official” Valentines distributed by the Chamber of Commerce. A bit of ego is involved here. My name is printed on the back of the card informing the world that I wrote the winning cachet that appears on every envelope. I learned at the press conference that about 160,000 Valentines are remailed here each year. They have gone to all 50 states and to 110 countries. Wow! What a privilege to have a part in this enterprise! What a joy!

The Valentine remailing program began in 1946, so it has been going on for 65 years. In 1962, the city began the selection of a Miss Loveland Valentine. This young woman must be a senior in one of theLovelandhigh schools, have good grades, poise, and speaking abilities. She receives scholarship grants for college and represents the community for a year spreading the word about the delights of ourSweetheartCity.

During the month of February, the Thompson Valley Rotary Club places red, wooden hearts on lampposts along our two major highways. Citizens may compose words of affection, devotion, and admiration in 25 letters or fewer and have these messages seen by thousands of people as they drive through town. Proceeds from this project help children locally and abroad.

This year we have lights of red and white strung across our main downtown street. Hearts, roses, and cupids abound at business locations and around some private residences. We are fortunate to live in theLandofLove.